Friday, April 2, 2010

It was a very awkward evening...

Here's my view of an online discussion with the DOE about the Blueprint for reform. For other views by participants, scroll to the bottom.

When I was in high school I received an invitation to a party as an act of charity. The invitation was extended by the daughter of my father's new boss in our new small town. "Let's invite the new girl, even though she's not really a potential new friend, being from the wrong social class and all..." Though I had assumed that the invitation was sincere, it became clear that I was there to help my hostess fulfill her Christian duty. It was a very awkward evening.
And they were right.
We never socialized after that.
This April Fool's Day was "deja vu all over again."
National Board teachers were invited to a webinar with the federal Department of Education representatives. The invitation was advertised as a discussion:
National Board Certified Teachers are invited to participate in a discussion with U.S. education officials via a Webinar about the U.S. Department of Education’s “Blueprint for Reform,” the Obama Administration’s proposed framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (in its current form, known as “No Child Left Behind”).
Though only slated for an hour, the first 35 minutes were devoted to a powerpoint presentation by our guests, Judy Wurtzel and two National Board teachers who are currently working inside the Ed Department. Only twenty-five minutes were left for our questions.
That was frustrating.
With approximately 250 NBCT's online, most of whom we can assume had done their homework and already read the Blueprint that was then presented to us, there was no way our concerns could be adequately addressed. Instead, we were held hostage to our computers as we watched the presentation unfold and the time tick away.
And we have many concerns.
As the national whipping boys for any failed programs, we want our concerns addressed. Many of us have made it our business to know what is going on in the world of education policy and want a voice in changes to the ESEA legislation that has ruled our classrooms for the past eight years.
Sadly, I was left with the impression that our 'conversation' would be evidence of "input from board certified teachers" and was another check mark on a long list of charitable to do's. Having been the token teacher on other rubber-stamp committees, it was a familiar feeling.
It was clear that the blueprint is set, and we were there just to hear the plan.
If I were to give real input, I would have given the following:
  • Thanks for removing some of the punitive measures of No Child Left Behind. Celebrating success works much better as a motivator in the classroom than punishment. It will help to motivate our teachers and building leaders, too.
  • Thanks for at least including the wording of collaboration in your blueprint. After the presentation I still see no legislative heavy hand in seeing that it will become a fact of our working lives. I'm sorry the DOE won't weigh in on how an "effective" or "highly effective" teacher can be identified.
  • My question was answered, but I did not like the answer. It appears that much of the DOE money can, and most likely will, be spent on necessary tools and personnel to establish and keep a flow of data on student outcomes (and teacher performance, I am assuming) flowing into the DOE. The changes at the classroom level may only be a trickle down after that behemoth is up and running. I smell more monies diverted to big testing companies. I'm reminded of the increased workload on teachers when IDEA was passed. No doubt the legislation was worthwhile, but it increased workloads and cost dollars in unexpected ways.
  • One question brought chuckles from Ms. Wurtzel. Asked if NBCTs could be forced into low-performing schools because of the wording of the blueprint, Wurtzel claimed that to be in no way the intention of the law. Well, the reason committees meet is to explore the law of unintended consequences, and there were many under the ESEA law now up for reform. Who better to raise the concerns of unexpected outcomes than those who have seen how the current law played out in their school or district? This is the very reason teachers want to be in on the planning, especially those who have lived at the bottom of sweeping changes. We want to address the "what ifs" of any new legislation.
  • I also wanted to understand how eliminating the National Writing Project and Reading is Fudamental plays into the plan. The NWP is highly researched professional development that results in well-documented effective teachers. RIF puts books in the hands of low-income children several times a year. I know. I've worked for both. By putting these two programs out for state-by-state bidding means dismantling two national networks and eliminating the Fed's endorsement of strong, effective literacy programs. The states will be easy prey to corporate driven literacy programs which means more dollars spent on less effective programs. (NWP is totally teacher driven, totally researched based. No one can squeeze more out of a dollar than a teacher. RIF runs on a network of volunteers.)
  • Too many of the initiatives sound like a marriage to the interests of big business and a "free-market" system. (Like the Race to the Top contest declaring winners and losers.) It still appears that those with the biggest bank account get the largest voice.
Thanks for the invitation, but it felt like an afterthought.
Clearly, those who are above our station had already held the real party months before.

For more discussion go to:
David Cohen at InterAct
Renee Moore at TeachMoore
Nancy Flanagan at Teacher in a Strange Land